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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why I can't live in America

Dead Simple.
I cannot live here.

I'd make too many friends too quickly. I can hardly walk a block in this town without meeting a nice person. Now, not every meeting means a lifelong friendship, but the law of big numbers says that if I were to carry on at the rate I am having smiling conversations here, my business model Nokia will run out of SIM and SD card space very soon.

So it was today. I head out on my bike in search of the 3 things that are preventing my departure.
1) Local cell phone number so I can have some coms backup if the hillbillies get me.

2) Gas canister for my (AMERICAN!) MSR whisperlite stove. (sofar impossible to find).

3) A way of recording audio so I can at least get some kind of creative record of this trip. I have high intentions of persuading some of my more adventurous friends in SA to join me on a future cycling adventure here. To date, Mikhail Peppas, the Irish Greekman, has thrown his lot in, provided he can do the travel bits by train. We also determined to start putting together a constitution for the African Explorers' Club, under which banner I travel....
4) A candle for the late Stuart Rolland, who continues to inspire me with his reckless and directionless travels of America.

I meet Sarah Barret, cyclist of note and power secretary to the mighty at Internews network USA who sends me off to Radio Shack for my audio needs.

At Radio Shack I am instantly looked after by a highly informed and efficient staff (all relative...remember I live in Africa) and after buying a cute little audio recorder and getting a phone (+12022973219), I watch and listen to the travails of a young lass trying to sort out her mobile coms. Now this is so much more interesting than seeing the other side of the Whitehouse that I kick back and enjoy the experience. Eventually, of course, we start to chat and she offers to show me where I can try to get camping gas. Thank you! This turns out to be on the other side of town, and seemingly a different world.
All of a sudden the world is no longer blonde and I am on the West Side Story set. While we walk there Susan Tamir(hey! I know someone who works at the World Bank!) tells me that things can get a little hairy on her side of town. She says that at one stage there was a murder every weekend. That's 52 a year. I think quietly to myself, 'I would like to live in a city where there were only 50 odd murders a year. In Johannesburg there are 5000 a year and 10000 rapes.) but I don't say anything, cause, I guess we do live in a hopelessly abnormal society...
Eventually we get to Target, which is a combo of Pick and Pay Hyper and Makro (SA outlets). I have no luck with my mission as the only canisters are about 3 feet tall and the only single candles I can find are battery operated.

So here I am in the Washington equivalent of Joubert Park in Johannesburg. I haul out my Nikon and casually take pix of the street and the people. As I write this I can confirm that I still have my Nikon, in fact the only looks I got were from a couple of guys who were wondering what I was photographing. I could not help thinking back to one of the last times I took street pix in Durban...I was inside the car and within 10 seconds of lifting the camera a hand grabbed it. Fortunately it was tied to my arm and I won the tug of war. I then yelled profanities at the well-dressed youth who looked at me as though I had stolen his flippin' Xmas turkey and then strolled off indignantly. Needless to say nobody even blinked an eyelid.
The reason I am hashing out this tale is that it is becoming very clear to me why people are so much friendlier in Washington than Johannesburg....your's not expecting to be mugged all the time.
Like the original homo-travelus, Ubuntu, the African philosophy of shared humanity seems to have hit the road outa there and taken root in the far north. See this well placed BBC story....
Whilst the object of my focal attention underscores the alluring sexiness of the suburbs, the next shot is the one I really wanted. There was an inevitable moment coming where the guys would be watching the girl with an extra virgin olive oil sign behind. The real killer moment came, when they were looking at her and she was looking at me, but I missed it...and the shot I got was blurry. Now about that Nikon 70 to 200 VR lens......

But it was all worth it just for the experience of being a minority race group again. Yippee! Feeling at home

There are however, a few other reasons why I might not be able to live here...try this one..

"Better gas mileage can be had from what used to be standard in cars -- the manual transmission, or stick shift. But how many drivers know how to use one these days?
It's a lost art, but a very efficient one. For its October issue, Consumer Reports bought two versions of seven different cars -- ranging from a $15,800 Scion to a $24,000 Mini Cooper -- and found a gain of 2 to 5 mpg with a standard versus automatic transmission in the same model.
Don't count on the manual becoming the transmission of the future, at least in the U.S. "Fewer than 9% of new cars in the United States are manuals, and that figure is set to drop to 6% by 2012,"
Plus, as this post at suggests, run-of-the-mill car thieves don't know how to drive with a clutch."

Guess I'll stick to my bike.

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